LONDON — The HMS Queen Elizabeth, the biggest ship ever built for the British navy, sailed into its homeport for the first time Wednesday as tens of thousands jammed the harbor to welcome it.
The 3 billion-pound ($3.9 billion) ship arrived at Portsmouth Naval Base in southern England with sailors lining the flight deck and Royal Navy helicopters soaring above. A band of Royal Marines added to the pageantry as the families of service members lined the jetty to cheer the 919-foot (280-meter) vessel, which has been conducting sea trials since setting out from Rosyth dockyard in Scotland on June 27.
"She is Britain's statement to the world: a demonstration of British military power and our commitment to a bigger global role," Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said. "The thousands of people across the U.K. who have played a part in building her and her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, should be immensely proud as our future flagship enters Portsmouth."
The carrier was built specifically as a platform for the next generation of fighter jets and is expected to have two dozen F-35B aircraft on board by 2023. The Queen Elizabeth and the Prince of Wales will replace three smaller carriers that were retired over the past decade.
Fallon said in June that Russia would look at the new carrier with envy, comparing it to the "dilapidated" Admiral Kuznetsov, which was launched in 1985. Russia's defense ministry fired back, with a spokesman dismissing the Queen Elizabeth as just a "conveniently large sea target" that should stay close to U.S. protection assets.
Whatever its capabilities, the Queen Elizabeth is immense.
Its flight deck is almost 13,000 square meters (139,930 square feet), big enough to accommodate 470 of London's famous double-decker buses. Its anchors alone are 3.1 meters (over 10 feet) tall and weigh almost as much as one of those buses.